Monday, May 24, 2010

Justifying Vices

Everyone's got vices that they find ways to justify. Smoking, drinking, gambling at tiny gas station casinos...we tell ourselves hundreds of little stories to justify our vices, to make them sound, if not ok, at least understandable.

Dave and I are trying to manage our money better lately, and one of the main tenants of Operation: Save is to Stick To The Budget. I'm pretty good with not making unplanned purchases when it comes to clothing, electronics, or bike gear *sigh.* But my vice is definitely food. Let's look over some recent purchases this weekend.

Purchase:   Cupcakes

Justification: My Blog
I seriously thought to myself, "I can blog about this, that means I can buy these!" So I better milk this one for all it's worth. These cupcakes came from the one and only cupcake bakery in Sioux Falls, Oh My Cupcakes. I HAVE been planning to go here for the past month. Does that count as budgeting? Also, I shared them, so that means its an event.

The flavors above are Smores and Triple Chocolate Meltdown. I recommend. I've also heard their Root Beer Float Cupcake is quite good. The cake was a little dry, but it held together well, which is important for cupcakes. The cupcakes also came in adorable little personal containers

They protected the cupcakes pretty well---unless you dropped the containers upside down. But I suppose that's my "bad."

Purchase: Coffee

Justification: Change in my purse
It was early; I was tired...and I figured that if I could pay for it with change, then it was ok. Also again, blog of course, since I said I'd search out the local coffee....this cup of Joe was made by the Cherrybean Coffee Company, a local roaster of Fair Trade/Organic beans that distributes to grocery stores and a local restaurant, the Whisk and Chop Cafe. It was definitely decent, but I've had better here (more on that later).

Purchase: Farmer's Market Spinach

Justification: Preemptive meal planning
I have a thing for Farmer's Markets---if I could buy all my food there, I would. Unfortunately, they don't always coincide with when I NEED food, or what I was planning to make in the first place. Mostly, its buy ingredients, find something to do with them later. Sometimes this doesn't work out so well. Sometimes, it works out great. I knew instantly what I wanted to make when I saw this leafy, toothsome looking spinach (that's right, I use that word).

Tuscan Chicken.

We make this from a recipe we got out of an issue of Bon Appetit a year or so back. It's basically a breaded chicken fillet, pan-fried and served over a bed of spinach, with lemon aioli, capers, and toasted homemade ciabatta bread with a tomato confit. It's very good, but we hardly ever make it unless we have guests (which we did) because its a decent amount of work. Great excuse for spinach though! If you'd like to make this yourself, you can find the recipe here on Chowhound: Tuscan Chicken 

The recipe for Ciabatta that I use comes from the Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. As bread recipes go, its a lot of time, if not work, for not a large amount if bread, but there is nothing more perfect for this meal.

So see? It's all justified in the end...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

MUWHAHA Dave stole the Blog


Rebecca keeps blogging on this thing talking about great gourmet this and saffron infused that... blah blah blah.  I am here to give you the real skinny on how we eat.  She probably doesn't want me to post these because the snooty Foodie Out of Water doesn't want you do know she secretly likes.... normal food.  Like just the other day I was about to be forced to eat at some new fangled hole-in-the-wall kitschy place.  When I turned the steering wheel at the last moment, where did we arrive but the Pizza Ranch in Tea.

The food was so great.  My first course was a bowl of chicken noodle soup.  It was divine; tasted exactly like George Webb's Nuclear Noodle.  Anyone who has craved a crappy delicious soup at 2:00 AM can appreciate that.  To accompany this great soup was a simple iceburg lettuce salad with lots of cheese, ranch and bacon bits.  I of course made it myself at the well stocked buffet.
I bet Foodie's don't like buffets but seriously what could be better then half day old lettuce with luke warm dressing covered in chemicalized bacon flavored pieces.  Of course the coupe de grace' was the mashed potatoes.  Clearly made from some highly scientific powder with milk added.  YUMMY you would be amazed at science's control over potatoes.  the gravy was some chicken-based flavored treat.  It really brought out the potato flavoring in the potato product.  My fine beverage was this concoction which was a soft serve root beer float.  I mean who wouldn't want that.

The establishments second course consisted of pepperoni pizza, cheese pizza, Cheesy Ranch Sticks, and some sauce that was really spicy that I think Pizza Ranch might have invented to accompany pizza.  Basically you sprinkle tiny drops of this little red stuff and it makes the pizza taste like God made it for you.  At first I was petrified to eat the cheese sticks.  I remembered the cheese sticks from high school that were so greesy you could oil your car with them.  Surely these couldn't live up to those high standards.  But I was afraid for nothing; the sticks clogged every artery I had with the same speed as my high school cheesy breads.

Although no waitress mentioned dessert, I still felt I owed it to you the audience to eat the food.  The course was an apple cobbler pizza covered in soft serve.They work very hard to keep the soft serve extra soft and servey here at the Ranch.  That dish was just over the top good.  You would never believe that pizza could be cobler and the milk could be almost like ice cream except with out all the flavor, texture, and cream.

In conclusion, Rebecca and I loved the Ranch so much we think we might have to recommend it to the Food Network for a Foodie Award.  Below is a picture of how much we enjoyed the food.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mmm, Meat(less)

I have this idea in my head that all meat eaters should eat at least one vegetarian dinner a week. I'd aim for more, but I'm not sure if I could convince a certain someone to eat meatless more than one day a week. Its not that Dave is against vegetarian meals, its more that he seems to consider many of my meal ideas to be not really meals. Broccoli and a baked potato sounds like a meal to me; he seems to disagree.

So the challenge, really, is to come up with a vegetarian meal that actually tastes substantial, hearty, dare I say, almost meaty? There's really one fool proof way to get a meat eater to at least try a vegetarian dish, and I'm sure you'll find that I use this tactic quite frequently--- FRY IT! Does it make food healthy? No. Could you perhaps be taking out a lot of the value of consuming those vitamin laden veggies by coating them in a layer of oil? Most definitely. But hey, you have to start somewhere.

 And I'm starting with Falafel. First time I've ever made it, so lets see how it goes. First, lots of smashing.

This is where I've really come to appreciate my excellent tater masher/pastry blender from Pampered Chef; if anyone's going to break on of these, it'll be me, from the way I use it. The ingredients in this bowl include:

  • 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 dash pepper
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
Adapted from a recipe by Sean

It looks like a lot, but it's not really. Mix all these ingredients together, then shape into patties. Heat up about an inch of oil in a pan until droplets of water "pop" when sprinkled into the pan. Arrange patties in the pan, but don't overcrowd; they'll cook a lot faster. Turn to brown both sides; drain on paper towel.

They look kind of like mini hamburgers, don't they?

I initially intended to make cucumber yogurt dill sauce with this as well, but encountered an unfortunate snafu. I bought Hyvee brand plain yogurt to make it, because it was the cheapest. Turns out, not the smartest idea. I assumed all PLAIN yogurt was the same; unflavored yogurt. How much variance can you really get from that? Turns out Hyvee means "plain" like I mean these falafel are fat free. Which is, not at all. It was sickeningly sweet---perhaps I should have been clued in by how high sugar appears on the ingredients list.

  So needless to say, cucumber yogurt dill sauce was not made. I did, however, prepare some sliced cucumber with a great marinade as a side (cider vinegar, oil, sugar, seasoning salt and pepper. Seriously, awesome). Serve with some warm pitas, maybe some tahini or ranch, and you've got a meal fit for a meat eater.

I honestly wasn't really sure how these would turn out, so I was pretty happy with the result. They were tender on the inside, crunchy on the outside, and nicely spiced. I'd make it again! I think Dave might even eat it again.

Speaking of Dave, in the next week, he may be stealing my blog for a post. He seems to feel that a certain view point on food is not being expressed. I believe he said it will either be about a ham sandwich or Taco Bell. We shall all see----NEXT!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Cookie Experiments

It's been said once or twice that I can't leave a recipe alone. Its not anything major in my opinion: a little mustard in the egg salad here, a little mint in the ice cream there---I just like to see what happens when you, you know, add a little something. It's probably part of why I love America's Test Kitchen--the cooking show for tweakers. Case in point:

The Cookie Experiments

Cookies are probably one of the easiest baked goods to mess with, partly because small changes can have big effects. Of course, this means that you can easily get results that you DIDN'T intend---I make cookies less in the summer, because the ambient heat/humidity always gives me flat cookies. Still, I've rarely found even a flop to be totally inedible.

This week, I decided to use up some more of my seemingly endless supply of wheat flour and make an all-wheat flour cookie. I searched around for a basic recipe that I could futz with and came upon this one:

Whole Wheat Snickerdoodles I
adapted from a recipe by Marguerite
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Cream butter and sugar till fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Beat well. Add dry ingredients.
  2. Shape dough into 1 inch balls and roll in sugar cinnamon mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten slightly with a drinking glass.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for 8-10 minutes.
 I mixed up the dough as required, holding myself back from changing anything right away.

Ok fine, I lied. I added a little cinnamon to the mix as well. I have problems, ok?
Next, I made one batch as usual not changing anything else (really!). I gave them plenty of space on the baking sheet, just in case they spread out like crazy.

After the first batch, I decided they could use a little richness. So, I threw in maybe a 1/3 cup of Heath Bits. They melt really well in cookies, creating buttery, sweet pockets of flavor.

But was that enough? No. After the second batch, I still had enough dough left for an additional tweak, so I threw in about a tablespoon of molasses. Finally, with all the dough used up, it was time to compare the results:

There isn't a ton of difference, visually between the first batch (far left) and the second (center), but I think there is definitely a visible change for the third. And the taste was definitely noticeable. I think both additions I made added to the flavor of the cookie, although the addition of molasses also altered the texture. The cookie became denser, with a definite chew. I like the molasses, but I think I'd need to find a way to make them less dense. Maybe white sugar instead? Of course, I could always just go back to another one of my favorites: Whole Wheat Ginger Snaps. Am I just trying to make these the hard way?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Trials of Portion Control

All the diets out there will tell you: if you want to lose weight, you have to control your portions. Granted, it also tends to have something to do with eating more broccoli than bacon and some form of exercise.

Portion control can be tricky though. Other than the fact that food just tastes good and you want more of it, sometimes the food industry does not do you any favors. Case in point: tonight's meal. I decided to make Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo. Check out the size of this single chicken breast:

That's ONE chicken breast. If you're trying to keep track of your calorie intake, this hefty chicken breast would probably count as 2-3 portions. It sort of disturbs me that chicken breasts have become this huge; I can't imagine how gigantic these chickens are.

Then there's aesthetics. With a bowl this big, doesn't it just look like you should, you know, just fill it with ice cream?

It's hard to resist eating more than you know you should. So, if you want to convince yourself that just one is enough, you have to make it look good, and taste like enough.

Introducing, the highly adaptable, filling and freezable,

Homemade Granola Bars
 adapted from a recipe by Aliceyn Fokuhl
 3 cups quick cooking oats
14 oz can condensed milk
2 tbsp butter
  1/2cup coconut
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup crisp rice cereal

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x13 inch pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, sweetened condensed milk, butter, coconut, pecans, chocolate chips, cranberries and crisp rice cereal with your hands until well blended. Press flat into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, depending on how crunchy you want them. Lightly browned just around the edges will give you moist, chewy bars. Let cool for 5 minutes, cut into rectangular bars then let cool completely before serving. 
Notes: The original author's notes on this basically state that when she makes these, she uses 3 cups of oats, and then "3-4 cups of whatever," which is a pretty good guide for how versatile this is. I really like the addition of crisp rice to lighten up the bars, and make them a bit less dense. After you cut the bars and let them cool, wrap each bar individually in saran wrap, and throw the extras in the freezer. It's a great breakfast or snack.

Try these and you won't regret it!